|Sexual Offences Bill [Lords]
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North): I spent a day at Heathrow looking at the workings of that project. I was extremely impressed. The information that it provides—not only about children being trafficked for sexual exploitation—will be incredibly important. Will the Minister of State ensure that the findings are implemented across the child care system, so that other Departments can also reap the benefits of this important work?
Beverley Hughes: Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend of that. That is why we are proceeding as we are. The pilot is still being evaluated, but we want to apply the lessons of it nationally and to ensure that it takes place everywhere it is needed.
Intake teams have also been piloted at Dover as joint initiatives between the immigration service and social services. They will be extended to other ports, and to the Croydon and Solihull asylum screening units. Kent police have seconded a trained child protection officer to the joint immigration service
Column Number: 285and police debriefing team based at Dover, and it is hoped that there will shortly be two permanent officers.
A lot is happening in respect of both adults and children. I hope that I have demonstrated that we take the trafficking of people, and especially of children, as seriously as do many hon. Members.
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): It is good to hear that there is such progress at ports. I hope that that will be developed in future. However, is there not a serious gap in terms of the services that we are able to offer to young people who have been trafficked? We have seen alarming statistics about children who have left the safe house project in West Sussex: I presume that they have gone straight back into the hands of traffickers. Can we not do more?
Beverley Hughes: My hon. Friend makes another important point. Views have been expressed about the closure of that safe house. There is a range of opinions among child care workers and immigration and police officers about the advisability of putting together in one place children who have experienced trafficking and/or sexual exploitation. One opinion is that when young people have been trafficked from a foreign country and speak a different language, and that is overlaid by the terrible experience of being subjected to enforced sexual exploitation, that increases the level of complexity of dealing with them above even the norm for sexually abused children in this country. On the other hand, there is a view that putting such children together makes them easily identifiable and allows the traffickers who brought them in to the country to keep their hooks into them and to get control of them. As my hon. Friend knows, a number of children absconded or were persuaded to leave that safe house. There is a fear that, at least in some of those cases, they left as a result of contact being made because their location was very visible and became known.
Sandra Gidley (Romsey): I took part in an Adjournment debate on this subject a few months ago, and it is my recollection that that safe house was set up because Sussex social workers became aware that children were disappearing. At that stage, it was felt that it would be better for them to be kept in one place where the social workers could keep an eye on them and monitor the situation. What precautions are being taken to ensure that the children are dispersed and that we do not revert to the previous situation in which the children—usually Nigerian, I think—were trafficked, if memory serves, to Italy? I think that we are going round in circles.
Beverley Hughes: That just reflects the nature of the children's situation when they are trafficked into the country and the hold that the traffickers can have over them. It is difficult always to cut through that control and to stop the traffickers persuading children to come back. Some children were lost from that project. An important lesson to learn from it is that child care practitioners need the additional knowledge and expertise that dealing with those young people demands. One advantage of the safe house was that it allowed the people working there to develop best practice and that special expertise. It is important that, as we help local authorities to deal with the matter, we
Column Number: 286continue to disseminate that learning and the extra skills that those people acquired.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said that we had to be strong on all fronts if we were to crack the problem. It is important that we protect victims and get them to help us so that we use the information they provide to prosecute traffickers when we can, and disrupt their activities when we cannot. Perhaps in that way we can prevent those who may not yet have been trafficked from being trafficked by the same people in future. We have to balance those two important objectives continually.
Mr. Gerrard: Other hon. Members and I mentioned that the legislation does not include trafficking for labour, which is a serious problem. I appreciate that there may be difficulties in including that in the Sexual Offences Bill, but will my hon. Friend say whether the Home Office is looking at that issue and whether we should try to address the problem in other legislation?
The Chairman: Order. That would fall outside the scope of the Bill, but I am prepared to allow the Minister of State to respond briefly, if she wishes.
Beverley Hughes: That point is outside the scope of the Bill, but I assure my hon. Friend that we are actively considering the issue. As soon as there is legislative opportunity, it will be included.
Sandra Gidley: Clearly, we did not go far enough with our amendments. I apologise for tabling an amendment that did not clarify exactly what we meant by humanitarian aid. The purpose of the amendment was to help us to consider what was going on and plans for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned the period of reflection. Clearly, we would not make people stay for six months if they did not want to stay; that would be ridiculous. Experience from other countries shows that where there is a period of reflection, a great number of women choose to return in that period, perhaps having had the chance to get treatment or to sort out things back home. As the Minister rightly said, for many of the women in question, the United Kingdom is not home. They are here under duress and are forced to send money home, not always of their own free will.
I was a little concerned when the Minister started talking about loopholes and incentives and whether we could be creating a route for illegal immigrants. I become concerned when I hear that sort of argument used as an excuse for not providing humanitarian aid. The United Kingdom has signed up to the optional protocol to the UN convention against transnational organised crime to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children. Article 6 states:
I admit that ''consider'' is a weasel word. Although I welcome the steps the Government have taken, I am aware that they have not ratified the Palermo protocol. They cannot, for example, say that they are fully complying with article 6. We might wish to revisit that
Column Number: 287in more detail on Report, when there is a bit more meat on the bones.
The Minister mentioned outreach work. I referred earlier to my visit to Italy. There are projects in Rome in which people working with sex workers hand out cards in different languages to try to make people aware that there are places they can go if they are victims. There is also a helpline—interestingly, I was told that often clients who felt sorry for the people working as prostitutes phoned that line and alerted the authorities to something that was going on. Perhaps we could consider that in future.
I am only partially reassured. Nevertheless, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman, Being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Question agreed to.
Clause 58, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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